Council moves forward extra sales tax

FAIRMONT– The topic of a community center was once again discussed by the Fairmont City Council on Monday. This time, it was discussed in conjunction with calling for an election on sales tax and use tax for an ice arena project.

City Administrator, Matt Skaret, provided some background on the project, which has been in the works for nearly a decade or more.

“Back on Jan. 9, 2023 the council did approve a resolution requesting a local option sales tax for the city of Fairmont to go toward the construction of a community center and ice arena– that’s how it was worded in the resolution,” Skaret said.

Legislative approval was required and the legislature did grant approval for the council to take the matter to the voters for an extra half-cent sales tax if desired.

“Now that the general election is quickly approaching, Taft Law, our legal counsel on this matter, has prepared the resolution that council would need to approve in order to send the question to the voters on the November 5th election,” Skaret said.

If approved, Skaret said the question would be worded as followed: Shall the city of Fairmont impose a sales and use tax of one-half of one percent (0.50 precent) for no more than 25 years or until $20 million is raised, plus an amount equal to the interest and the cost of the issuance of any bonds, to finance the construction of a community center and ice arena in the City?

“I wasn’t here at the time but it’s my understanding that the council did include the ‘community center and ice arena’ to provide some flexibility and eliminate any question on what’s community center and what’s ice arena expense,” Skaret said.

Council Member Michele Miller brought up concerns with the way the question was worded. She said she felt it was as confusing as the last ballot question.

Miller was referring to a question put to the voters on Nov. 8, 2016, which read: Shall the City of Fairmont be authorized to impose a local option sales tax for one-half of one percent (1/2 percent) for 25 years or until $15 million in revenue have been generated, for the purpose of funding recreational amenities, trails and/or a Fairmont Community Center?

“The community center, right now we’re being sued by a group and may or may not get a community center. So I asked Matt, ‘if we don’t get a community center, do we get ice?’ and he said no. That makes no sense,” Miller said.

She questioned why the Fairmont Hockey Association would do any marketing or fundraising when there’s no guarantee that it will get an ice arena.

“I think this should be just ice,” Miller said. “Again people are going to come back and say, ‘I voted for a community center,’ or, ‘I voted for ice,,’ but they didn’t vote for both. I think the wording will be confusing.”

Skaret said the question was taken to legal counsel, which said the development of the community center is necessary in order to get the ice arena.

“They’re two different projects. They’re not going together. Just because we said phase one and phase two, they’re two different projects at this point,” Miller said.

Council Member Jay Maynard said that the lawsuit in question was “all but over.” Maynard was referring to a lawsuit brought against the city last year by the Fairmont Taxpayers Coalition for Government Transparency.

“I for one am not going to be interested in taking any of this $20 million if it’s approved and moving it from the ice arena to the community center. This is about the ice arena and that’s what the voters see and what they’ll vote on and it’s on us to use the money that way,” Maynard said.

He said whether or not the community center is built is largely in the hands of the Fairmont Area Community Center Foundation.

Council Member Britney Kawecki asked for clarification on whether or not the language of the question could be changed. Skaret said that the question posed to council was whether or not to put the question on the ballot.

“We can’t change the language and we want the money if it passes so I think it’s whether we want to see the money for hockey and for the community center,” Kawecki said.

Miller said she had a problem voting for it in good faith and that she doubted all of the money raised, if passed, would go strictly to hockey.

“I hope to God if this passes, and people vote, that they truly understand that this is an ice arena we’re going for, not the community center. That’s a total separate issues. Two different projects and we seem to forget that,” Miller said.

A call for a vote was brought forth several times during discussion and a motion was made to approve the resolution calling for an election on the additional sales tax. The motion passed 4-1 with Council Member Wayne Hasek opposed.

On Monday the council also heard from Peter Bode, Planner and Zoning Official, concerning some matters. One of them was a request to approve the preliminary and final plats of the Emerald Fire addition.

“Emerald Fire Farms purchased the old Casey’s (2237 N. State St.) and Greischar & Torgeson have applied for preliminary and final plats to subdivide one existing lot off of State Highway 15 into two lots. Emerald Fire purchased the lot in 2023 and plans to operate a retail business on the eastern portion of the property,” Bode said.

The western portion of the lot, which is undeveloped, is intended to be subdivided and sold to Greischar & Torgeson for future commercial development.

“For reference, council, Greischar & Torgeson owns the two hotels behind there, as well as Taco Bell,” Bode said.

He spoke about a feature of the plat, which includes a private driveway and easement across the southern 60 feet which provides access to the undeveloped portion.

“It’s a decreased maintenance cost for us… but it’s sized appropriately for a public street in the future,” Bode said.

Mayor Lee Baarts asked if the city would need to be responsible for maintenance and snow removal if approved. Bode said that since it’s a private easement there would be zero maintenance on the part of the city.

A resolution to approve the preliminary and final plat for the addition passed.

Next, Bode asked the council to consider a CUP (conditional use permit) from Recovery in Motion to operate a rehabilitation center at 1100 Indus Street. Bode said the site is the former House of Hope, which ended operations during the Covid 19 pandemic.

“The zoning code was amended around 1996 to allow rehabilitation centers such as this to operate within industrial zones. Recovery in Motion proposes a land use nearly identical to house of Hope and no changes to the building or site are needed,” Bode said.

The council approved of the CUP request.

In other business, the council:

— Recognized city employees Chad Streimer (Parks Department), Chad Sanow (Police Department) and Betsy Steuber (Administration) for their 20 plus years of service.

— Approved some demolition assistance for a property at 415 S. State Street

— Approved and authorized a local bridge replacement grant program agreement with the state of Minnesota.

— Approved the Woodland Avenue resurfacing project at the low bid of $695,155 from Nielsen Blacktopping & Concrete, Inc.

— Approved a request for the judicial appointment of Nicky Simpson to the Fairmont Charter Commission.


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